A guide to men’s ethical + organic underwear

Underwear is something that most of us buy new. It’s something that I buy new. 90% of my wardrobe is second-hand, and I try to make sure that those things I do buy new are as sustainable and ethical as possible.

(Because I buy most things second-hand, I can afford to spend a little more on underwear.)

I try to support independent and sustainability-minded businesses (not only by choosing to buy their products, but also by purchasing from them directly rather than a third-party platform beginning with A), choose well-made, organic and fair trade products, and avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.

It’s not always possible, but with underwear there are some options.

Slowly slowly I’ve been putting together a bit of a guide for ethical, organic and fair trade underwear. I’ve previously written about ethical and organic women’s underwear brands, and ethical bras and bralette options. Today, I’ve put together a list of options for men’s underwear.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of this post.

All of these brands are ones I’d recommend (I wouldn’t list any that I didn’t). Because they all offer something different and it is impossible to have favourites, I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order instead.

Bhumi

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Bhumi is an Australian company selling organic cotton products. Their mens’ range includes briefs, trunks (pictured), mid-length trunks and boxers.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: bhumi.com.au

Etiko underwear

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Etiko is a family-owned and operated clothing company with an emphasis on protecting human rights and transparency. All their products are certified organic, fair trade and vegan. They make mens’ trunks in four colours: heather grey, black, peacock and eclipse stripe (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: www.etiko.com.au

John Lewis & Partners

Company HQ: UK / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / Made in: not declared / Ships: Worldwide

John Lewis & Partners are more corporate than any others on the list, but I included them as the business is actually owned by the people who work there (there are no external shareholders) and they are more committed to sustainability than most. Plus I was struggling to find a UK option, and John Lewis have a surprisingly good mens’ range in organic cotton: briefs, keyhole briefs, button boxers, hipster trunks, trunks (pictured) and button fly trunks.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: johnlewis.com

Laura’s Underthere

Company HQ: Canada / Fairtrade: N/A / Organic: N/A (second-hand and upcycled fabric) / Made from: upcycled jersey / stretch knit / Made in: Canada / Ships: USA and Canada

Laura’s Underthere makes unique limited edition underwear made from upcycled jersey and stretch knit material. All of the designs are gender inclusive (Laura calls it genderful) and for every pair purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need. The pouched boxers are pictured.

Sizes: XXS – XXXXL

Website: laurasunderthere.com

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane or 100% cotton / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Living Crafts is a German company specializing in organic cotton textiles, with a good range of men’s underwear. They offer boxers (which they call pants – pictured) and longer, looser boxer shorts either with or without elastane. Their factories are 100% wind powered.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: livingcrafts.de

Nisa Men

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: No / Organic: uncertified / Made from: cotton or merino, elastane / Made in: New Zealand / Ships: Worldwide

Nisa have a line of men’s organic cotton boxer briefs in three colours: black (maroon trim), grey (mustard trim – pictured) and navy (grey trim).

Sizes: S – XL

Nisa employ women from refugee backgrounds to sew their underwear in Wellington, New Zealand. They state that they aim to source organic certified cotton ‘wherever they can’.

Website: nisa.co.nz

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: Turkey / Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have three styles of boxer: organic cotton boxers, Tencel (an eco-friendly fibre made from wood pulp) boxer shorts (pictured) and Slivertech Active boxers made of 93% recycled nylon and 7% elastane.

There are a few colour options depending on the style (all styles come in black). Bonus: they package and ship their products without plastic.

Sizes: S-XXL

Website: organicbasics.com

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% Cotton 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company with a good range of mens’ underwear styles and colours: briefs, trunks, boxer briefs (pictured), extended boxer briefs and knit boxers

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wearpact.com

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Peau ethique is a French mother-and-daughter company making organic cotton underwear. They have two styles for men: briefs and boxers (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: peau-ethique.com

Thunderpants

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 90% cotton, 10% spandex / Made in: New Zealand / USA / Ships: Worldwide

Thunderpants have two styles for men: original and fitted boxers. They have a lot of fun, printed designs which change regularly – black is also currently available.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: thunderpants.co.nz

(They also have dedicated site for the USA thunderpantsusa.com, with products made in Oregon, Portland stocking one men’s style: boxer briefs. Their newly launched UK site thunderpants.co.uk will be supplying products made in the north of England but current stock – men’s fitted boxer – is made in Australia)

Wama underwear

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: NO / Organic: YES uncertified / Made from: 53% hemp, 44% cotton, 3% spandex / Made in: China / Ships: Worldwide

WAMA have four styles: boxer briefs (pictured), trunks, boxers and briefs. All styles come in black; the boxer briefs come in green and hemp (a sandy colour) also. They are the only brand I’ve found that blend hemp with cotton.

WAMA are a Green America Certified Business and a PETA-Approved Vegan brand.

Sizes: S – 3XL

Website: wamaunderwear.com

Wonderpants

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / merino, elastane / Made in: Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Wonderpants have a single boxer style of mens’ underwear, available in either cotton or merino. Cotton colours are black, charcoal, green, red ochre, grey marle (pictured) and charcoal with black; merino colours are blaze red, charcoal and midnight navy.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wonderpants.com.au

As always, I’d love to hear from you! If you have any great brand suggestions that I’ve missed, would like to give an impromptu product review (good or bad) or have any other comments or thoughts at all, please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it

Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:

That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?

Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.

I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.

And yet… it happens. To all of us.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.

Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.

As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.

Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.

I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.

But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.

This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.

I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.

And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.

Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)

One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).

Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?

Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.

Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.

I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.

Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.

Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.

I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.

Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.

There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!

When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.

Yes, I want to hear from you!

Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.

This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.

Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.

Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.

Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

5 Reasons to Choose Etsy for Ethical + Eco-Friendly Purchases

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

As a self-professed lover of less stuff, it’s not often you’ll find me talking about shopping. But I accept, we all need to buy some things sometimes.

I know that when I need to buy something, I want it to be the most ethical, sustainable, long-lasting and environmentally sound choice that’s available to me.

I’m guessing you do too.

Usually that means eschewing the big box stores, avoiding the high street chains and instead choosing second-hand or supporting the independent stores, small producers and local craftspeople.

But finding these businesses and people can be tricky. Plus if we live away from the big capital cities, our options can be limited. And that’s where Etsy comes in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what Etsy is, who it’s for and why you might want to consider it if you’re someone passionate about living with less waste and more sustainably.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to connect and buy (or sell) unique, handmade and/or vintage goods. Etsy’s core mission is to help artists and crafters make a living. It’s a platform that makes it easy for sellers to sell and buyers to buy, but it’s more than just a selling platform.

It’s about connecting people.

It’s possible for sellers to post updates and share messages, and buyers to leave feedback (and photographs) – which gives it a really human, community feel and makes buyers feel connected to the people who make the items.

Who is Etsy for?

When I’m giving talks about living with less waste I often say, there are two types of people in the world. Those that know how to make things, and those that do not know how to make things.

Etsy is the bridge that connects us.

No-one has the time, patience and will to learn how to make everything. For those things we can’t make ourselves, we generally need to buy them. Whenever people ask me where they can buy reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps (or their vegan wax wrap equivalents) and natural skincare products (including zero waste make-up) I always suggest looking on Etsy.

The people who sell on Etsy range from those who make a full-time income from it, to hobbyists who are able to sell their creations to fund their craft.

5 Reasons Why Etsy is a Good Choice for Eco-Friendly and Ethical Purchases

Let’s be clear. I’m not encouraging anyone to buy stuff they don’t need. But when we do need to buy things, Etsy is a good option. Here’s why.

1. It’s the opposite of mass-produced.

Mass production tends to go hand-in-hand with corporate capitalism, where things are made as cheap as possible through externalising the costs. What that means is, companies exploit the land, create pollution and underpay workers so customers can buy things cheaply.

And most of this mass produced stuff isn’t made to last, because these companies need customers coming back and buying more stuff.

Etsy, on the other hand, champions producers who offer handmade goods, or produce things in small batches. One person or even a small-scale workshop simply can’t pump out huge volumes of stuff. And so there is an emphasis on unique, personalised, customisable, well-made and thoughtfully produced items.

2. You’re supporting real people to make a living (and receive a fair reward for their work).

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘when you buy from a small independent business, a real person does a happy dance’? I always hold this thought with me when buying from a small business, local maker or skilled artisan.

It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to know the names of the people who make my things (like Claire from Etsy store Small World Dreams, who made my bag, and lives right here in WA).

It’s more than just money – it’s belief in someone else’s work and a coming together of shared values. For example, Etsy currently has 36,882 results for ‘zero waste‘. Buying a product from a zero waste seller isn’t just parting with your cash, it’s reaffirming to the sellers that we care about these issues too.

You’re keeping useful skills alive (and maybe even encouraging more people to embrace them).

I don’t know how to sew, embroider, weave, turn wood, paint, blow glass or build things that don’t fall apart. But other people do, and Etsy has provided a platform for them to share their skills and work with the world.

Before platforms like Etsy existed, it was difficult for sellers to reach people who wanted what they had, and time-consuming to attend markets. Now, Etsy has made it possible (and easy) for sellers to connect with buyers, which means creators can spend more time doing what they love – creating.

It also means that more people can become creators. The only barrier is actually having a skill to share. Make soap? Create art? Upcycle clothing? Restore furniture? There’s a space on Etsy for you.

4. You can ask questions and make your preferences known.

Of course it’s no guarantee that everything on Etsy is produced ethically from sustainable materials and shipped in recycled packaging. But when you’re dealing with a creator directly, you can ask the questions.

Where do they source their materials? Do they make the products by hand themselves? Who else works in the business? Will they ship without packaging? Do they avoid using plastic?

It’s a lot easier for a creator to be transparent than it is for a faceless customer service representative at a big box store – who likely has no idea about the buying and procurement procedures for the company at which they work.

Plus, when you’re dealing directly with the creator, you have the opportunity to ask for exactly what you want. Looking for a different colour, or have a slightly different design in mind? Ask!

There’s never a guarantee but many Etsy sellers offer custom orders, so you can make sure the thing you buy is exactly what you want. Which is the best way to ensure the things we buy are things we use often.

5. You can find upcycled, reclaimed, recycled and second-hand.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creators and sellers on Etsy only work with brand new materials. Not at all! If there’s something that you’re looking for, I’d always recommend looking to see if someone has made it out of already existing materials first.

There are so many great small businesses creating useful products out of what others might see as waste, be it metals, wood, fabric and even packaging. (There isn’t space to list them here, but I think it might make a good post for another time.)

Also, Etsy is a platform for vintage goods – which is really a fancy way of saying second-hand. If you’re the kind of person who loves old, but rarely finds cool old stuff in the charity shop yourself, Etsy is a great place to track down second-hand things.

I prefer to save the trawling through auction houses and antiques stores for the people who really love to do it, and have an eye for useful things. I think it’s cool that rather than languishing on a dusty shelf in a sleepy town in an old second-hand store, Etsy makes it easier to give these things new life and keep them in circulation.

You can find out more about Etsy here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Etsy before and what was your experience? Are you a creator who sells things on Etsy? Have you found any awesome vintage or upcycled finds? Any zero waste or sustainability-focussed sellers to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Bras (and Bralettes)

As I’ve said before, many things can be purchased second-hand and pre-loved. Undergarments, not so much. A lightly used bra might possibly be an option for some (versus lightly used underwear, which is a no from me). Personally though, I’ve always purchased my bras new.

And I’ve always struggled to find a bra that isn’t made of polyester or synthetic fabric. Crop top style bras can be found made of cotton, but they don’t tend to be very supportive, so they don’t work for everyone.

Fortunately, as demand for ethical and sustainable products has grown, so have the options available to us. I thought I’d put together a post of all the sustainable bra brands that I’ve come across. I’ll add to the list as more become available, so if you know any great ones I’ve missed, be sure to let us know!

(This is the second part of this series, you can find the women’s ethical underwear post here.) This post contains affiliate links (denoted by a *). You can read more at the end of the post.

AmaElla

Company HQ: UK / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton Made in: Portugal Ships: Worldwide

A Cambridge-based UK business with a focus on ethical and organic lingerie offering a small number of organic cotton bras.

Sizes: S – L (32A – 38C)

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried this brand but it’s one that my readers have recommended.

Website: amaella.com

Le Buns

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton Made in: Indonesia Ships: Australia

Boutique Australian company specializing in organic cotton intimates and swimwear made from discarded fishing nets. They have a range of organic cotton bralettes mostly in a crop-top/sportswear style, in natural colours.

Sizes: XS – XL

Tried and tested: not a brand I’ve tried, but one that has been recommended to me by my readers.

Website: lebuns.com.au

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton and elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

The bras offered by Living Crafts are all cotton. There are a few styles (pictured is the Triangle bra). The Irelia has recycled polyamide straps.

Sizes: XS – XL (The Irelia bra has regular bra sizing from 75A to 85C)

Website: livingcrafts.de

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton / Tencel / recycled nylon Made in: Turkey / Portugal Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have two regular bras: the triangle bra, made from cotton, and the lite bralette, made from Tencel. (They also have a sports range made out of recycled nylon.)

Sizes: XS – XL

Tried and tested: I have the triangle bra in size M (I’m usually a 34C). I think I’m probably between their sizes, and so I don’t find the bra as supportive as the Very Good Bra, but I do find it incredibly soft and comfortable, and it’s the bra I’ve lived in for the last few months.

Website: organicbasics.com

(For readers outside Australia: Organic Basics have given me a 10% discount code to share with you TREADOBC. For Australian readers: Organic Basics have a newly launched Australian website that doesn’t accept this code and only stocks a small range. When I purchased my products this site didn’t exist and I used the US site which has the full range.)

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company selling organic cotton products with few different bralette styles (all 95% organic cotton, 5% elastane). Several bras are recommended for A – D cups, others for smaller cups only.

Sizes: XS – XL

Tried and tested: I’ve not personally tried this brand, but several of my readers recommended them to me. I like that they offer a number of different styles and patterns.

Website: wearpact.com

(this is a refer-a-friend link and you can save 20% on your first purchase)

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Living Crafts is a French mother-and-daughter company making organic cotton underwear. They have two styles for men: briefs and boxers (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: peau-ethique.com

The Very Good Bra

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: Tencel / Made in: Hong Kong and China / Ships: Worldwide

If there is one bra I would recommend above all others, it is the Very Good Bra. The creator, Stephanie, wanted to create a bra that was totally zero waste, right down to the thread (Tencel, which is compostable), elastic (tree rubber) and labels (organic cotton).

Sizes: AA – E. Currently available in black and vintage pink.

Tried and tested: It’s firmer and offers a little more support than the cotton brands I’ve tried that tend to be a little stretchier. I have size 34C in black. I love everything about this bra, from the fit to the ethics to the 100% compostability.

Website: theverygoodbra.com

Now I’d love to hear from you! Especially if you’ve tried and tested a brand – and whether you loved it or actually not so much! Any other comments or thoughts? Please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

Declutter for the Planet (Yes, That’s a Thing)

This week (on July 29th) was Earth Overshoot Day. What this means is that July 29th is the day on which we’ve officially used up all of the resources the planet can naturally regenerate in a year. Another way of saying it, is that we use almost twice as many resources as is sustainable – half of what we use is basically being taken from future generations.

Something to tell the grandkids! Oh…wait…

The Global Footprint Network, who are behind all the research, break it down a little further, detailing the Overshoot Day for each country (meaning, on what day would we use up all the earth’s resources if everyone in the world lived like the people of that country). As you can imagine, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK all fare pretty badly here (the dates are, in order: March 31st, March 18th, March 15th and May 17th).

They also have a little calculator that gives us an idea of what our individual footprint is – how many earths do we need to sustain our current lifestyle?

I gave it a go. It was an interesting exercise, but I don’t actually want to talk about results and how planets we each use (or not). Anything that asks us to self-report our behaviour tends to be overestimated – after all, we like to think the best of ourselves!

What was noticeable to me were the questions that weren’t asked.

There were questions on meat consumption, food miles, food packaging. There were questions on housing and energy use. Of course, there were questions on car driving and flying.

But the glaringly obvious thing missing in my mind were the questions about consuming, shopping and ‘stuff’. Those things have an impact too. Take clothing. The UN estimates that the global fashion industry contributes 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

(I understand that calculators need to simplify, but still.)

There were no questions about how often we shop, what things we buy, what kinds of businesses we buy from, how the things we buy are delivered (do we buy the from local stores or get them air freighted from different continents?), whether we actually use these things once we own them, and what we do with them when we are done.

If you’ve bought anything ever, and you’re feeling like you should probably get ready to defend your purchasing choices, I just want to say – me too! I’ve bought things too! This is not that post.

Sure, our shopping choices are important. But for me, what’s equally as important is what we do with these things once we buy them. I sometimes think that we forget that our ‘stuff’ is resources. We can put those resources to good use, either ourselves or by giving them to someone else that will use them… or we can leave them languish in a cupboard.

When I think about my footprint, I’m always drawn to the things I own, and whether me owning them is really the best use of that ‘stuff’. I think that letting go of things we no longer use is the opposite of waste. In fact, the idea of Earth Overshoot Day was something I wrote about in my book Less Stuff and one of my personal motivations for decluttering.

I’m not talking about decluttering as overloading the charity shop with stuff they probably won’t be able to sell. I’m not talking about decluttering as clearing space so there’s room to go buy more stuff.

I’m talking about decluttering as de-owning.

I don’t need to own more clothes and shoes than there are days of the year. I don’t need to own every trinket I consider beautiful, or every piece of art I admire. I don’t need to own every single gadget that’s cleverly designed.

I don’t need to own every single thing I might ever need to use just one time.

What I need and what you need will be completely different. But we can both ask ourselves: do I really need this, am I actually going to use it, or can I put it back out into the world and let someone else benefit? Is there a better use for these resources than gathering dust in my cupboards?

Decluttering is as simple as taking a single item, realising that we just don’t use it enough to justify keeping it, and setting about finding somebody who does need it, and will use it.

If you think the ‘finding somebody who does need it’ part sounds hard, it is much simpler than you think, especially with the internet. Think online classifieds, online auction sites, online marketplace platforms, and Buy Nothing groups. For more details, here are six ideas to get you started.

The best thing about sharing stuff is that it is accessible to everybody. We can’t say that about a lot of sustainable choices. Rather than feeling bad because our sole local grocery store wraps everything in plastic, or because we can’t afford solar panels (or we rent), or because we have to drive a car to work because there is no public transport option, we can look at where we have the opportunity to create change and make a difference.

And yes, what you do does make a difference.

When it comes to stuff, I think most of us buy things with good intentions. But the way we use them doesn’t always pan out the way we expect. We can make the most of our bad decisions by ensuring that the things we don’t need don’t go to waste.

And in doing so, we help someone else out, keep resources in circulation and stop new things being made. The best thing of all? It’s easy to do, and you can start taking action today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? What steps do you take to share resources? How do you feel about decluttering? How have your feelings changed over time? Any other thoughts to add? Please share below!

<center></center>

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Underwear Brands

Part of me loves the idea of one day learning to sew my own underwear, but let’s be real. As someone who only just has the skills to sew a reusable produce bag together, it won’t be happening any time soon. Plus there are probably a hundred other skills I’d rather learn first.

The reality is, I buy my underwear. Chances are, so do you.

I wanted to share all the options for sustainable, ethical and organic cotton underwear that I’ve come across. There’s been a few companies come and go over the years (Pants to Poverty – how good is that name? – being my first ethical underpant love that sadly disappeared a few years ago) but overall the options do seem to be growing.

I know some people balk at the price of ethical underwear. I have a few things to say about this. Firstly, I believe that we get what we pay for. Cheap things generally have externalized costs – meaning costs that aren’t factored in to the price.

That could mean not paying workers properly, or it could mean dumping chemicals in waterways that someone else has to pay to clean up – or pay with their health.

If I believe in paying the true cost, then I have to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. As someone who buys very few things new, I feel that when I do make a purchase I can afford to invest in what most aligns with my values.

And yes, it does take a bit of a mindset shift to get my head around the fact that I pay more for my underwear than I pay for my jeans. But I don’t buy new jeans and I don’t buy used underwear, so that’s how it is.

Finally, I can’t tell anyone else what they can and cannot afford. All I can do is share my choices and my reasoning. I think where we can afford to spend a bit more and buy ethical underwear, its important to do so, to support these companies and practices. If you can afford it, I’d encourage you to do so too.

And if you cannot, there are plenty of other ways that you can create positive change in your life. No judgement and no guilt – we are all trying our best to do what we can.

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

I’ve listed the brands below in alphabetical order for ease. I’ve not included period underwear here as that is a separate topic for a separate post. There’ll be a separate post for men’s underwear coming soon!

Bhumi

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Bhumi is an Australian company selling organic cotton products. Their four women’s styles are bikini, boyleg, midi, and midi with leg band (pictured). Their colours are black, white, grey, navy blue and tan.

Sizes: S – XL ( AU/UK 8 – AU/UK 20, US 4 – 16, EU 36 – 44)

Tried and tested: I’ve never tried these, but I do know that Bhumi is one of the older and more established brands available in Australia.

Website: bhumi.com.au

Etiko Underwear

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Etiko make underwear in three styles: bikini, boyleg and full brief. Colours are black, grey, tan (they call it latte) and pink.

Sizes: AU/UK 10 – AU/UK 20 (US 6 – 16, EU 38 – 48).

Tried and tested: I’ve purchased the boyleg style in a size 10. They are a generous 10 (if you’re petite they are going to be too big for you). They are slightly cheaper than some other brands, but don’t last quite as long.

Website: www.etiko.com.au

Laura’s Underthere

Company HQ: Canada / Fairtrade: N/A / Organic: N/A (second-hand and upcycled fabric) / Made from: upcycled jersey / stretch knit / Made in: Canada / Ships: USA and Canada

Laura’s Underthere makes unique limited edition underwear made from upcycled jersey and stretch knit material. All of the designs are gender inclusive (Laura calls it genderful) and for every pair purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need. Styles include hipster, mid waisted and high wasted briefs, maternity and unpouched boxers in colourful patterned fabric.

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried these, but I love the huge range of sizes available.

Sizes: XXS – XXXXL

Website: laurasunderthere.com

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Living Crafts is a German company specializing in organic cotton textiles, with a good range of women’s underwear. Styles include high-waisted and hipster briefs, and boyleg. They have a range of plain colours, and also some simple patterned fabric.Their factories are 100% wind powered.

Sizes: XS – XL ( AU/UK 8 – AU/UK 20, US 4 – 16, EU 34 – 48)

Website: livingcrafts.de

Mighty Good Undies

I no longer recommend this brand. Might Good Undies went into liquidation after failing to pay suppliers in August 2019 and were purchased by another entity, renamed Mighty Good Basics (with a new company registration) and resurfaced as if nothing had happened. When I raised my concerns (ironically, after a social media post where they stated they were committed to transparency) they were evasive, simply telling me they were a new company but not addressing the issue of non-payment to suppliers, nor answering other concerns I raised. It’s not fair trade and it’s not ethical if you don’t pay your suppliers. I would not recommend purchasing from this company.

Nisa Women

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: No / Organic: uncertified / Made from: cotton or merino, elastane / Made in: New Zealand / Ships: Worldwide

Nisa have three styles in cotton: high full briefs, low full briefs and low cheeky briefs. Colours are black, navy and merlot, grey and mustard, rose, and pomegranate. They also make a merino wool low-waisted brief in electric blue.

Sizes: S, M, L and XL (AU sizes 10 – 16). They make plus-size underwear (sizes 18 – 24) to order.

Nisa employ women from refugee backgrounds to sew their underwear in Wellington, New Zealand. They state that they aim to source organic certified cotton ‘wherever they can’.

Tried and tested: I’ve not tried these but love the company’s ethos and vision.

Website: nisa.co.nz

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: Turkey / Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have two styles in organic cotton: bikini briefs and thongs, in black or rose nude. (They also have a Slivertech range with two stypes – hiperster and thong – which are 82% organic cotton, 12% SilverTech polyester and 6% elastane).

Sizes: XS – XL (XS fits waist 61 – 65cm / 24 – 25″, XL fits waist 81 – 85cm / 31 – 33″)

Tried and tested: Organic Basics actually gave me a voucher to try their products. I chose the bikini briefs in a size S – I’d read that the sizing comes up big – and they fit perfectly. (What I’m particularly enamoured with is their organic cotton triangle bra, but I’ll talk about bras in a separate post.) Their multipacks are particularly good value. They are also very transparent about their sustainability efforts.

Website: organicbasics.com

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: Cotton Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company selling organic cotton products with a good range of women’s underwear. Styles include classic fit bikini, cheeky hipster, high rise hipster, boy shorts and thongs, and there are some lace-waist versions of some of the styles. They have black, white and tan and a wide range of pastel colours.

Sizes: XS – XL (AU/UK 4 – 20, US 0 – 16)

Tried and tested: I’ve not personally tried this brand, but they have been recommended to me a number of times.

Website: wearpact.com

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Peau ethique is a French mother-and-daughter company creating organic cotton and silk lingerie. If you’re after something that isn’t basic and black (meaning, you like lace and frills) this brand has options. They have briefs (the Lisa briefs are pictured), G strings/thongs, boxers/boy leg and high waisted undies.

Sizes: 36 – 44 (AU/UK 10 – AU/UK 16, US 6 – 12)

Tried and tested: No, but it’s popular with the French zero waste community.

Website: peau-ethique.com

Thunderpants

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 90% cotton, 10% spandex / Made in: New Zealand / USA / Ships: Worldwide

Thunderpants have four styles: original, hipster, women’s fitted boxer and undershorts. They have a lot of fun, printed designs which change regularly. Occasionally they release a series of zero waste ‘patchwork pants’ (pictured) made from fabric offcuts to reduce their waste.

Sizes: AU/UK 6 – 26 (US 0 – 20)

Tried and tested: I have a pair of patchwork pants in size M. I love their fun and quirky prints and find them comfortable. The only thing to note is that the stitching around the legs is quite tight, so if you’re larger than average in this area they might be uncomfortable.

Website: thunderpants.co.nz

(They also have dedicated site for the USA thunderpantsusa.com, with products made in Oregon, Portland – same styles, but different fabrics. Their newly launched UK site thunderpants.co.uk will be supplying products made in the north of England but current stock is made in New Zealand.)

Wama underwear

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: NO / Organic: YES uncertified / Made from: 53% hemp, 44% cotton, 3% spandex / Made in: China / Ships: Worldwide

WAMA have four women’s styles: thong, bikini, hipster (pictured) and boy shorts. All styles come in black; the boxer briefs come in green and hemp (a sandy colour) also. They are the only brand I’ve found that blend hemp with cotton.

Sizes: XS – 2XL (XS fits waist 60 – 65cm, XXL fits waist 85 – 90cm, US 0 – 16)

Tried and tested: I have a pair of hipsters (which are more like boyleg in style) in medium. They are lightweight and the fabric is thinner than some other brands; they are very comfortable to wear, especially in summer.

Website: wamaunderwear.com

Wonderpants

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton, elastane / Made in: Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Wonderpants have three styles: high-top, regular and low-rise. Colours are black, charcoal, yellow, red ochre, grey marle and white.

Sizes: AU/UK 8 – 18 (they say their sizes are a generous fit, and suggest considering going down a size compared to what you’d normally wear).

Website: wonderpants.com.au

I love the idea of sustainable fashion, but the reality is there are too many used goods in the world for me to buy clothes new; I’d rather choose second-hand. As for underwear – well that’s a different story. And, it’s something I wear every day, so I figure it’s worth the investment.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any favourites of yours in the list, or any you’ve not come across before? Any I’ve missed? I know there will be more brands out there, so if you know of any please tell us and I’ll update the list! Any other comments? Please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

What’s the Controversy with Palm Oil (and is Sustainable Palm Oil Actually Sustainable)?

I’m guessing you’ve heard of palm oil. And I’m guessing that you’ve heard that it’s bad, or at least, you heard it’s bad for the orangutans. But if it’s so bad, you’re probably also wondering why all the companies that use it think it’s so good, seeing as it’s in around half of all packaged goods in the supermarket.

There’s got to be a reason for that, right? Otherwise wouldn’t they just swap it out for something else?

And what about certified sustainable palm oil? That sounds good, yes? So why do many environmental groups call for a boycott or ban on all palm oil, including certified sustainable palm oil?

Palm oil gets talked about a lot, but sometimes it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Here’s the lowdown: what’s so good about palm oil, what’s so bad about palm oil, and what certified sustainable palm oil really means.

What Is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil, and it is produced from the fruit of the oil palms (a type of palm tree): primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, but to a lesser extent the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa. Palm kernel oil is a different oil, but it comes from the same plant – this oil is produced from the seed, not the fruit.

Oil palms are tropical rainforest plants, requiring high rainfall, humid conditions and warm temperatures. It grows best when planted 10° north or south of the equator. Oil palms are more productive when grown in plantations, fruiting after 2-3 years until 25-30 years, when they need to be replaced.

What’s So Good About Palm Oil?

Oil palm trees produce more oil from less land than any other oil crop (5x the second-highest oil crop, rapeseed, 6x more than groundnut and sunflower oils, and more than 10x crops like soy bean or coconut oil). The trees also fruit continuously, making them a reliable crop to grow and accessible for smallholders.

The fruits and kernels also have lower production costs than other oil crops, which makes palm oil an efficient and profitable crop to grow.

Because of this, palm oil is the cheapest plant oil to produce (whilst still being profitable for the growers), which makes it popular for use in foods and toiletries. 10% of palm oil is currently grown to produce biofuel.

Palm oil is tasteless, and has a long shelf life compared to other plant oils. Another advantage of palm oil is that it is semi-solid at room temperature, and can be easily refined into liquid and solid oils. The solid fraction has a melting point of 35°C (95°F). Solid palm oil is used in baked goods and pastry as a cheaper (and dairy-free) alternative to butter, in chocolate and desserts as a much cheaper alternative to cocoa butter, and in dairy-free spreads.

In cosmetics it’s a good foaming agent and considered preferable to using animal tallow (animal fat). It’s often used in soap to create bars that are harder and last longer.

In the 1960s, with concerns around the high saturated fat content of animal products like lard and butter, manufacturers began making alternatives by hydrogenating vegetable oils low in saturated fat to make them solid. Partly this was driven by health concerns, but it was also cheaper to produce. These trans-fats was later discovered to be even less healthy than saturated fats and many countries are now legislating to remove trans-fats from food (there are bans in Europe and Canada).

This left manufacturers looking for an alternative, which they found in palm oil.

Very few plant oils are solid at room temperature: the main alternative is coconut oil which has a lower melting point of 24°C (75°F). Cocoa butter is very expensive, and shea butter is rarely used in food products. With the rise in demand for vegetarian and vegan products, palm oil is a good alternative for products that traditionally would use butter or animal fat.

‘Good’, of course, depends on your perspective.

What’s So Bad About Palm Oil?

One of the biggest concerns with oil palms is that this demand for palm oil has meant a significant amount of deforestation, because forests are what grow on the land that is prime for palm oil plantations.

Deforestation means displacement of indigenous people and wildlife habitat loss as old growth rainforest is cleared to make way for new plantations. Animals that have lost their homes enter plantations looking for food: they are seen as a threat to the oil palm crops and considered pests, and often shot.

84% of all the palm oil produced worldwide comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. This also happens to be the only place in the world where orangutans live (on the islands of Borneo – which has both Indonesian and Malaysian territory – and Sumatra, which is Indonesian).

The WWF estimates there were over 230,000 orangutans in the wild a century ago, but their population has halved over the last 100 years, and the Sumatran orangutan is now critically endangered.

Orangutans might be the most famous victims of palm oil, but they aren’t the only species at risk. The Sumatran elephant, tiger and rhino and the Bornean pygmy elephant are also threatened.

Land clearing isn’t the only threat to wildlife – poaching and logging are also issues – although in Indonesia it can be easier to get a land clearing permit than a logging permit, so land is often cleared for logging under an oil palm permit, but no oil palms are subsequently planted.

Palm oil isn’t just a threat for wildlife: it’s a threat for the climate. Another concern with palm oil is that many areas used for oil palm plantations are natural peatlands. Clearing of peatlands and planting of oil palms in these ares increase risk of fire, and the UN suggests peatland fires contribute around 5% of human-caused carbon emissions.

Palm oil is also the 6th most heavily fertilised food crop in the world per hectare. Chemical nitrogen fertilisers are made using natural gas, which can react with nitrogen gas in the air during an exchange that takes place at 400-500°C. This requires fossil fuels not only for the reaction but also to get to these temperatures.

It is estimated that the nitrogen fertiliser industry accounts for 3-5% of all natural gas used and causes more than 1% of all greenhouses gas emissions produced worldwide.

What Is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil – and Is It Sustainable?

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 by a collective of industry representatives, environmental groups and social advocacy groups to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products. It now has over 4,000 members worldwide, who have all committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.

To support this, the RSPO have developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). The RSPO trademark was launched in 2011, and RSPO currently certify about 20% of global palm oil production.

The RSPO is not without criticism. When the certification began in 2005 it was found to be complicated, costly and hard to implement. Many consider the standards to be weak, enforcement is limited and there is little retribution for non-compliance.

Certification can be given to palm oil plantations planted on land cleared of tropical forest, which begin as non-certified palm oil and later apply for the sustainable palm oil accreditation: this hides the reality that this certified plantation was recently tropical forest.

Studies have repeatedly shown that certified sustainable palm oil does not stop deforestation (although it may slow it down), it does not reduce the threat of fire or halt the decline in orangutan populations, and there are questions around whether it actually lifts people out of poverty.

Is ‘Certified Sustainable Palm Oil’ Greenwashing?

Many critics of the RSPO call it little more than greenwashing; a way for corporate palm oil stakeholders to look good to the public whilst continuing business as usual.

Some call for a full ban on palm oil, and many shoppers choose to boycott palm oil altogether.

Others critics argue that despite its flaws, a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil is still better than nothing at all, and it provides a way for organisations and companies to transition to more sustainable practices.

Supporters of the scheme, which include the WWF, argue that palm oil is necessary because it is cheap, more efficient than other oil crops, and provides economic benefits to the countries that produce it.

But production has roughly doubled every year since the 1970s, from around 2.5 million tonnes in 1970 to 75 million tonnes today (it’s estimated to reach 240 million tonnes by 2050). It is hard to imagine that such rapid growth can happen in a way that is truly sustainable.

This continued demand means the threat to natural tropical rainforest areas remains as great as ever, as does the threat to wildlife.

What Can We Do About the Palm Oil Problem?

Start With an Audit of Your Pantry and Bathroom Cupboard.

If palm oil is something you’re concerned about, the first thing to do is find out whether any products you’re using actually contain palm oil.

If you live in Europe, an EU law on food information that came into force in 2014 requires that palm oil must be clearly labelled as palm oil: it cannot be called vegetable oil. The US FDA also requires that oils be declared by their common or usual name in food products.

However, in Australia there is no such requirement and palm oil can be labelled as vegetable oil. Most companies will have information about whether they use palm oil on their websites, or will answer requests for information, so you may have to contact them directly to find out.

With non-food products, palm oil may be labelled as Elaeis guineensis, which is the name given to palm oil by the International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).

So far, so simple. However there are actually over 200 ingredients in food and cosmetics that can be derived from palm oil (you can find the list here). If you come across an ingredient in a product, ask the manufacturer for clarification of its origins.

If a Company Uses Palm Oil, is it Certified Sustainable Palm Oil? Switch Out Non-Sustainable Palm Oil First.

Most companies who use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) don’t use the logo on their packaging, but they will be keen to tell you their sustainability credentials on their website or if you ask.

If your audit reveals a lot of products containing palm oil, a next step would be to find out which ones use CSPO and which ones do not.

This gives you a priority list of products to swap out first. Better to support a company at least trying to do better over one that is not.

As well as swapping products, it is worth telling both the company whose product you’re no longer buying and the company whose product you’re switching to why you’re making the swap. Send a quick email, letting them know. This makes them aware that their customers are concerned about palm oil in products.

Slowly Switch Out Products that contain Palm Oil for Those That Don’t.

One by one, as the things you buy run out, start looking for a palm-oil free version.

Some products are easy switches. Palm oil doesn’t need to be in things like peanut butter, it’s added in because it’s a cheap filler. The same goes for chocolate bars: palm oil is simply cheaper than cocoa butter.

Some products are trickier. It may mean switching to a slightly different product (muesli over processed cereal) or it may mean deciding to make our own (and learning how to make our own).

The more processed a product is, the more likely it is to contain palm oil. Switch to less processed foods and less packaging and you’ll reduce your palm oil consumption, naturally.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t oil palms, it’s the way we’re using palm oil. Supporters of palm oil love it because its cheap. But do we really need to make more cheap fast food and processed snacks with empty calories?

Everything comes with a price. Cheap palm oil that results in deforestation, habitat loss, displacement of indigenous people, wildlife extinction and greenhouse gas emissions actually seems like a very high price to pay for low-cost shampoo and snacks.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is palm oil something you’re concerned about or not? Have you ever audited the products you buy to find out how many contain palm oil? Do you have any ideas for anyone wanting to reduce their palm oil? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share in the comments below!

All links to facts and figures can be found here.

The Illusion of Being Perfectly Zero Waste (or Perfectly Plastic-Free)

A few years ago, I wandered into a second-hand bag outlet in a pop-up shop that sold handbags. One bag caught my eye – it was in excellent condition and very inexpensive (it was $28 AUD). The lady explained that she had purchased it thinking it was leather, but then realised it wasn’t leather at all, so she had reduced it to clear – she was a leather shop, and didn’t want to stock non-leather items.

I bought the bag. It was second-hand, in almost new condition, and I really liked it. It seemed like a good purchase. It carried my zero waste and plastic-free essentials around for a few years.

But over time, the faux leather began to flake off. Slowly at first, but as the bag aged it got worse and worse.

Aside from the fact that it looked pretty tatty, I was also acutely aware that this flaking faux leather was actually microplastic, shedding into the environment.

Eventually enough was enough, and I realised I had to get a new bag.

I always say that it’s important to think about how we’ll dispose of an item when it’s life expired before we make the purchase. (If we are concerned about waste and are trying to reduce our landfill, at least.)

Clearly when I chose this bag, I didn’t think about that at all.

I think that’s why I held onto it as long as I did, even though it was disintegrating before my eyes. I knew that there was nothing I could do to save it. It’s 100% synthetic materials, so not biodegradable, not reusable, not salvageable. It’s next destination was landfill.

Of course, I feel bad about that.

I knew that my next purchase had to be better.

I’ve been following a small independent handmade bag business based on the east coast of Australia (in Mackay, Queensland) called Small World Dreams on Instagram since forever, and I’d decided that when I needed a new bag, I’d purchased one from Claire. I first heard about her because she uses Ink and Spindle fabric to make her bags – Ink and Spindle are a Melbourne-based company who use organic fabric, natural dyes and Australian flora to inspire their hand-printed designs.

I wanted my new bag to be made responsibly and transparently, fit all my things in it, be repairable, not contain any plastic at all and therefore be completely biodegradable, and be made so well that the idea of even needing to put it in the compost is one for the next decade, not this one.

The bag I chose fits all of these criteria.

But I confess, I felt a small pang of guilt when I chose it, because even though it meets all my criteria, is completely plastic-free, and is almost entirely made from organic cotton, the strap is made of leather.

I feel bad about this because I try very hard to avoid purchasing animal products.

But my previous bag, made of faux leather (which is plastic) ended up creating microplastic pollution and damaging the environment that way. It also ended up in landfill.

I feel bad about that, too.

In the end, I kept the leather to an absolute minimum, and made peace with my purchase because plastic-free was my first and biggest priority.

I know that if I’d really tried, I could have found a completely natural and biodegradable bag. I’m sure there are other great ethical small businesses I could have chosen from. Small World Dreams even stock a vegan range made using Piñatex, a relatively new leather alternative made from pineapple fibres. These bags didn’t suit my needs, however – and gold really isn’t my colour.

Actually, I really like the bag I chose. I love the style, the design, the craftsmanship. I know the strap will last a long time (and that is important to me).

I think the guilt I feel comes a lot from the need to try to be perfect.

I know it would be much easier to share with you a completely biodegradable, ethically made, natural, vegan bag – one ideally made locally with organic fabric, and packaged in recycled sustainable materials.

Easier in my mind because if I tick all the “ethical boxes”, no-one can make judgments about my choices.

Which is a false truth, actually, because people will make judgments whatever the choice.

Choices are rarely (ever?) perfect. No matter how many boxes are ticked, there’s always something that was forgotten about.

It’s a scary thing, putting your life and your choices in public. You’re opening yourself up to criticism and judgment. The reason I do it is because I think that sharing what I do and the choices I make helps others find their own way, learn from my discoveries and make better choices themselves.

Knowing that I can influence others to have a positive impact in their own lives and towards the environment is what keeps me motivated to continue.

It’s much easier then, to share the best choices. The things that work really well. The success stories.

But none of us are perfect. I’m not perfect. I don’t pretend to be, either, but it’s a lot easier to share the perfect bits than the imperfect bits.

I’d rather tell you that I’m the perfect vegan.

I’d rather tell you that I’m perfect at zero waste.

I’d rather tell you that I’m perfect at plastic-free.

But of course, I’m not any of these things.

The reality is that absolutes are hard. Different values can be conflicting, and we have to find our own way.

I have complete respect for anyone who lives with absolutes. I know that for many vegans, their resolve is absolute, and the idea of being an “imperfect vegan” is an oxymoron. There’s no room for flexibility: you either are or you aren’t.

For me, doing what I can is better than doing nothing at all. I try, and I struggle, and I fall short, but I keep striving to do better.

I wonder if my imperfections are because I’m multi-passionate. I care about too many things to be completely focused on one at the expense of all the others. I care about plastic-free and zero waste, supporting the local economy, buying second-hand and supporting Fair Trade. I care about food miles and air miles and reducing carbon emissions. My diet is plant-based and I don’t buy animal products at home, but when I’m out I make exceptions, and especially when friends have cooked for me.

My decisions are always about reducing my impact, but what that looks like varies from one decision to another – there’s always a compromise somewhere.

Then again, maybe my imperfections are nothing to do with being multi-passionate. Maybe they are simply because that’s how I am. Imperfectly imperfect.

What I’ve realised is, I don’t want to feel bad about the decisions I make. I try so hard to weigh up all the options and make the best decisions that I can. Not perfect ones, but better ones than the time before. That’s something I should feel good about.

Making better choices is something we should all feel good about.

Chasing the crazy notion of perfection, that’s what leads to overwhelm, stress and feeling miserable. Embracing our imperfections? That’s acceptance of what actually is. None of us are perfect at everything, all the time. Being kind to ourselves (and to others) is a much better alternative than beating ourselves up over our shortcomings.

My choices won’t be everybody’s choices. But they are my choices. In all their imperfection, I make them. Being happy with them means letting go of the desire to be perfect, and the fear of being judged when I’m not.

I’m not perfect, and I can be happy with that.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with the need to be perfect? How do you tackle criticism or judgment of the choices you make? Have you found your peace with making imperfect decisions? Anything else you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments!

7 Tips for Choosing Ethical Zero Waste Essentials

The zero waste and plastic-free movements have been steadily building momentum over the last few years, and along with that, so has the proliferation of associated “stuff”. When I started my plastic-free journey back in 2012, there were products to assist with zero waste living, but choice was limited. Now, it seems we are inundated with options, an there are more coming onto the marketplace every day.

That makes me a little nervous.

It makes me nervous because zero waste is about not creating waste; buying less stuff, and making do with what we have. It still means the occasional purchase, but usually “buy-once-and-will-last-forever” type products.

The more stuff on the market, the more we are tempted to buy, the more fashion and style comes into it and practicality and functionality seem less important.

When there’s so much choice, and there’s the temptation to buy more or try new things, these reusables can become “single use”. Reusables made of glass or stainless steel have a big production footprint. Great if we use them all the time, and of course they are made to last forever. But we have to use them often.

When we buy things and then don’t (or rarely) use them, they aren’t such better than single-use.

Finally, it makes me nervous because choice is paralyzing, and too much choice can lead to overwhelm and inaction. Changing habits is hard, and that is without having to exert energy deciding which products might be useful and appropriate, sifting through the greenwash and making good decisions.

Choice adds another layer of complexity.

I recognise that we often do need to buy stuff at the start of our plastic-free and zero waste journey. Not everything, but some things. Now there’s all this choice on the marketplace, I thought I’d put together an ethical zero waste purchasing guide to help navigate through some of the choices.

1. Needs versus Wants

There are many beautiful, ethically-produced things out there. Far more than we could ever need. The truth is, we can appreciate and admire the things we see without having to purchase them all. It can be tempting to buy something, thinking “I need this”! But really, is it a  need – or is it a want?

Can we make do without? Can we sit on the decision for a week, or a month, and decide whether we really need it?

The most zero waste option is always to make do with what you have, and buy nothing.

That’s not to say we should never purchase anything. Sometimes “wants” have a place. Sometimes we want to support a local ethical business because we believe in the work they do. Sometimes we know we don’t need something, but we really really want it, and we decide to buy it. No-one is perfect, and we all have desires, standards of living we want to maintain… and moments of weakness!

It’s a balance.

Let’s not kid ourselves that buying things makes us more zero waste. It might help our journey, it might support others in theirs, but is buying something the absolutely most zero waste thing to do? No. So let’s make the things that we do buy the absolute best ethical choices that we can.

2. Before You Go Shopping…

Think about what you need. Think about the properties what you need has to have. Think about how you’ll use it. Decide what you need, and then go looking for it. Going to a shop for “inspiration” likely ends up in you buying things you don’t actually need.

Do your research. Look online, and search for options. If you find a product you like the look of, go to the manufacturer’s website and read more. Read their mission statement and ethical credentials. Read customer reviews.

If you find the choice overwhelming, ask others on social media what they recommend to narrow your choices down.

3. Read the Labels. And I Mean Really Read the Labels.

Just because someone has shared a photo of a product on social media and stated it is compostable/ethical/zero waste/better, don’t just take their word for it. Go to the product’s website and look. What is the packaging made of? Where is it produced? What is the company’s reason for being? Ethical companies will be clear about their commitment to sustainability.

Does it claim to be biodegradable or compostable, and if so, is it certified? (Biodegradable can include toxic residue, and doesn’t mean that it will break down in home or even commercial composting facilities. There’s no regulations on using this term, and lots of products make the claim without providing evidence. If a product isn’t certified biodegradable or better still, compostable, I would avoid it.)

What does “better” mean? There’s a product on the market called “Boxed Water is Better”. Better how? Their containers are made of paperboard, a plastic-lined card that isn’t easily recycled in Australia. Why is it “better”? It’s because water packaged in paperboard uses less carbon emissions to transport than bottled water packaged in glass. Better in that scenario, yes, but why are they shipping water around the globe anyway? Transporting water to countries that already have drinkable water coming out of the tap doesn’t strike me as environmentally sound.

Ask questions. Dig deeper. Suspect everything ;)

If you ask questions, and can’t find the answers, stay away. Better to support those companies that are transparent and honest.

4. A Gap in the Market or a Slice of the Pie?

There are companies that have been working on the plastic-free / zero waste message for years. Stores like Biome opened in 2003, Life Without Plastic opened in 2006; brands like Klean Kanteen formed in 2002. They’ve been trailblazers in getting the zero waste message out there.

Then there new companies and brands, popping up year after year, increasing the reach, making zero waste more accessible, and offering new products and ways of doing things.

I’m all for choice, and I love new companies that offer innovative products, improve and build on existing designs, or increase accessibility by opening in new markets.

What I don’t love is companies who see that there is money to be made, and rip off another company’s product with their own label, or maybe make a cheaper version (easy to do when someone has done the design work for you and proven the business model).

If the only differentiating feature of a zero waste product is that it’s cheaper than an identical product available on the market, that’s not a great reason to buy.

Where products are similar, I prefer to support the original. They were the ones that took the risk and put their product out there.

Where there’s multiple options, I look for other criteria: who owns the business and how it is run, what organisations and non-profits they support, how they manage their supply chains, where production and offices are based, how they support their customers.

5. Be Wary of Kickstarter (and Crowdfunding Campaigns)

Crowdfunding campaigns ask the general public to support them in raising funds to begin a business venture, often in exchange for a discounted product. Don’t get me wrong – there are heaps of great projects worth supporting.

But there are many more that are not.

What makes a good project? In my mind, it is something that does not exist already; a product that there is clear demand for, and there seems to be a viable business model behind it all.

Projects I prefer not to support: anything that seems like more unnecessary “stuff”, anything made of plastic (we have enough plastic stuff in the world already!), another version of a product that already has a saturated market. (Do we really need another reusable coffee cup design, or reusable water bottle? Maybe…but probably not.)

Crowdfunding campaigns offering discounted versions of reusables which imitate products already on the market can be tempting. We all know reusables can be expensive. But these campaigns put pressure on existing businesses. Once the discounted phase is over, are the new companies likely to stay in business? Or are simply they fracturing the market?

6. Choose Your Stores Wisely

I think it is so, so important to support local, ethical businesses when making purchases. Ethical products purchased from a Big Box store in order to save a few dollars is missing a huge opportunity to support a small, independent, ethical business. The way I see it, these purchases are an investment, which will last years, and a few extra dollars upfront is worth it.

Yes, no-one wants to be ripped off, and we all have budgets we need to stick to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the absolute lowest price.

Ask yourself honestly, can you afford to spend just a little bit more? Those few extra dollars probably aren’t that much to you, but your support will mean a lot to a small business.

My first recommendation, before we even start to think about hitting the shops, is to try to find what you need second-hand. Try Gumtree, eBay, Buy Nothing groups, or charity shops.

Next, I always recommend local brick-and-mortar stores (or market stalls) in your local area. No shipping costs (both financial and emissions/carbon footprint), no unnecessary packaging, and you get to connect with a real person.

If that isn’t an option for you, then consider independent ethical online businesses. I’ve put together a worldwide list of online independent zero waste stores here.

(You’ll never ever find me linking to Amazon. The owner is worth US$81.6 billion: many would argue he made his fortunes by destroying competition and the high street, avoiding paying taxes, and other dubious practices. Maybe you’d argue that it’s fair – business is business. Personally, I don’t see why one man can possibly need all that money. I value choice, and I’d rather see thousands of small businesses owners earning enough money to send their children to college and affording holidays and buying good food than one man reap all the wealth.)

7. It’s Not About Perfection…

Ethical purchases are a minefield, and there’s rarely a perfect solution. There’s always compromise or trade-offs somewhere. The most important thing is making conscious choices. Knowing why you made the choice you did, and putting thought into the decision.

Think about what’s important to you – the carbon footprint, the production conditions, the company’s wider ethical footprint, transport miles, supporting the local economy, supporting Fair Trade, whether it’s made to last forever, whether it’s recyclable, whether it’s compostable. Chances are you won’t be able to tick all the boxes.

Ticking some is better than none.

Don’t be afraid to take action or make choices that aren’t perfect. Better to do something than do nothing. Worst case, you realise down the track that you could have chosen better. That’s a learning experience. We’ve all made mistakes, opted for choices we wouldn’t take again.

Let’s aim for progress, not perfection.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your biggest ethical struggles when it comes to making purchases? Do you have any non-negotiable criteria? How has your view on ethical purchasing changed over time? What tips do you have to add? Anything else you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers. I only recommend brands I love, and that I think you will love too.

Isn’t Zero Waste Living Meant to be Cheaper? (+ What To Do When It Isn’t)

Zero waste and plastic-free living are often spruiked as a way to save money. I avoid using that reason (I explained why I won’t talk about money-saving here). Even though, yes, living zero waste means I spend less.

It is pretty hard to stop buying stuff and spend more ;)

Whilst overall I spend less than I used to, some things I buy do cost more than their packaged equivalents. In the early days, I stood in the aisle, looking at the cheaper pre-packaged item and the more expensive bulk or zero waste one, and felt torn.

If someone embraces zero waste living solely as a way to save money, this is the point where they will stop. That’s one reason why I don’t use the ‘money-saving’ reason as a benefit. I want others to embrace this lifestyle beyond the choices that cost the least amount of money.

I want others to embrace choices that make the best sense for the bigger picture: local communities, our health, wildlife, workers rights, the environment and the planet as a whole.

For those of us who aren’t motivated solely by the money-saving aspect, knowing things are considerably more expensive can still be frustrating! No-one wants to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. I received this question recently, and it got me thinking:

“I’m having trouble justifying buying package free pasta and rice and such, when it is literally 10x as expensive as the same stuff I can get in the supermarket. I feel like I’m just wasting my money. If it were 2 or even 3x more expensive I might be able to justify it, but I feel like the price difference is kind of outrageous. Any wisdom?”

Oh, I’ve been there! These are my suggestions for what to do when zero waste isn’t the cheapest option, and you feel conflicted.

1. Remember Why You Chose the Zero Waste/Plastic-Free Lifestyle.

Most people choose this lifestyle for a number of reasons, and some of these reasons are about more than ourselves. Reasons such as: supporting local businesses and growing local communities, reducing litter, improving the environment, protecting our marine life, limiting harm to wildlife, reducing our impact on the world’s resources.

When we make choices that support ideas that are bigger than ourselves, we feel good. If you’re faced with a difficult choice, try to keep your ‘why’ at the front of your mind.

It might help you see the choice you’re making in a different light.

2. Ask Yourself What You Value.

For me, it comes down to values. I value locally grown, reduced carbon emissions, and organic. I value supporting independent businesses, and eating real food.

I value spending my money with companies I believe in. I value ethical and Fair Trade and sustainably produced.

(That’s not to say I don’t have a budget – I do! I’ll talk about that later.)

I want to see more products that fit in this niche, and more stores that support these ideas. The best thing I can do is vote with my dollar, and choose to support these brands and allow them to grow. Ultimately I don’t want this to be a niche, I want it to be mainstream. Supporting it is the only way this will happen.

Which is why, rather than shop at the bulk aisle in my local supermarket, I choose to shop at independent bulk stores. My favourite is The Source Bulk Foods. There’s one in my neighbourhood, but they have 33 stores across Australia (there’s 3 in Perth, and more planned). They aren’t the cheapest option, but they align the most with my values. Importantly, they are passionate about zero waste (some bulk stores here aren’t actually focused on the waste aspect).

The Source also have a huge variety of Australian-grown produce: almost all of their nuts are grown in Australia, and they even sell Australian quinoa. Supporting stores that champion these practices is more important to me than saving a couple of dollars.

3. Avoid Comparisons (Ignorance is Bliss).

Have you heard the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy?’ No-one wants to feel ripped off, or like they spent too much. When we know that there’s a cheaper option, sometimes it can be hard to make the right choice.

My solution is not to look.

I rarely go in the supermarket now. I never look at catalogues or shops online. If I don’t know what I’m ‘missing out’ on, it stops the comparisons, and I’m happier,.

I know what I need, so I go to my regular shop, and decide if I want to make the purchase based on the price that day.

If you didn’t know that the supermarket was cheaper than your local bulk store, it would change your whole perspective. Where you can, avoid looking.

4. Rather Than Asking ‘Is It More Expensive?’, Ask ‘Can I Afford It?’

It’s funny how we can get hung up on the price of some things, but not others. When avocados hit $4 in the shops here, everyone goes nuts at the ‘expensive price’ – even though they are locally grown, delicious and very good for us.

Yet bumper boxes of super processed biscuits – the ones made entirely or processed sugar, processed flour and trans-fats (or palm oil)? If they are $4 people think it’s a bargain.

It’s all about perspective.

Rather than stressing that the waste-free version is more expensive than the pre-packaged version, we can re-frame the question. We can ask ourselves: can I afford it? Is there something I could go without in order to buy this? Do I want it that much or could I go without?

I buy chocolate, and I buy coffee, and both of these could be considered luxury items. (Even if I like to think of them as essentials!) If something else I really wanted seemed expensive, I could pay the extra and forgo one of these. If you regularly buy takeaway coffee, or take-out, or magazines, could you reduce your spending in this area?

These are the choices we can make.

There may be things that you just can’t afford to buy zero waste at this point in your journey. Then you have two options: go without; or compromise.

5. Rather Than Worrying About The Price of Individual Items, Set Yourself a Budget For Your Entire Shop.

It’s all very lovely to talk about values and priorities, but most of us living a zero waste or plastic-free lifestyle have a budget. Hello, real world! Much as we might want to, we can’t necessarily afford to make all the perfect choices.

I’d like to buy everything organic, but in reality, my budget doesn’t allow me to.

Rather than stressing over individual items, we can set a budget for our whole shop. Many things in bulk are much cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts, yet we tend to focus on the stuff that costs more rather than celebrating what costs less.

Are things really too expensive, or can we accommodate them by making other changes?

Knowing exactly how much we have to spend will help us make better decisions – either now, or in the future as our circumstances change.

The answers will be different for everybody.

Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t always afford the perfect option (most of us can’t). But if the better choice is only a couple of dollars more, ask yourself what’s really stopping you making that choice?

For me, the question isn’t “does it cost more?” The question is, who will benefit if I choose the zero waste, organic, local option? And who will benefit (and who will suffer) if I don’t? When I’m on the fence about making the more ethical choice over the cheaper one, this helps direct me back to my priorities.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever get torn between cheaper options and more ethical, expensive options? How have your choices changed over time? Is there anything that you’re currently struggling with? Do you have any tips to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!